Wellness meeting touches on student health, nutrition, physical activity

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


MFL MarMac held a school wellness meeting Nov. 8, to review the district’s wellness policy and set goals for the year. The meeting was led by the MFL MarMac Wellness Committee, with input from community members, and addressed topics related to student health, nutrition and physical activity.


The latter, said school nurse Sara Kelly, has come up recently due to the practice of withholding physical activity as a punishment.


“Some do hold kids from recess,” she said, which goes against the district’s physical activity goals, which state “staff should not use physical activity or withhold opportunities as punishment.”


Jonathon Moser, a parent and MFL MarMac school board member, felt the practice was more detrimental than helpful.


“It’s the exact opposite of what they need. They need to get outside,” he said.


The group also discussed the decline of garden-enhanced instruction. The original goal was to include it in the school curriculum and reinforce it through foods grown on the school premises, but MFL MarMac has not had a school garden for several years. 


It fell off, noted Moser, due to poor collaboration. “It was intended to get the students involved, but it just fell on a few people,” he said.


The garden also became hard to manage in the summer, when staff and students weren’t regularly on site, added food service director Pat Echard. She suggested partnering with the high school agriculture classes to develop ideas.


A new work based learning program may also help, said family and consumer sciences teacher Tamara Butikofer.


“That might get some kids to buy into it,” she remarked.


The biggest topic of discussion at the meeting, however, was the school lunch program. One concern is that students find meals unappealing and portion sizes unfulfilling. Some students have resorted to bringing their own lunches or supplemental snacks, and others go home hungry.


“I’ve heard from several parents that kids are at Kwik Star after school,” said parent Carla Pester.


“There’s been an age old problem of kids coming home hungry,” acknowledged Echard. 


Although all meals are currently provided at no cost, she said seconds are available to students for a fee—something 30 to 40 high school students take advantage of regularly. “Some buy a bag of chips for after school,” she added.


A salad bar, including foods like lettuce, fresh vegetables, melon, peaches and applesauce, is also offered in addition to the regular hot lunch.


But no matter what’s offered, said Echard, food service staff can’t make kids eat it.


“We have our hands tied too,” she shared. “We’ve really had to change the way we cook. We used to do a lot of casseroles, but they wouldn’t eat it—they’re used to fast pizzas. Now, it’s all about convenience, portability and palatability. That’s an issue, but it’s bigger than the school.”


Moser said this is where resources like the school garden were supposed to help introduce students to different foods.


“You’re going to have picky eaters,” he said, “but getting those tasting programs would teach them why they are eating those things. It would make the palate OK, make it so they want to reach for those things.”


Those at the wellness meeting feared it wasn’t the food itself that was leaving some students hungry, though, but a limited amount of time to eat—or even eating too early in the day.


At the high school, for example, 140 kids have to make it through the lunch line and eat their meal in around 20 minutes.


Echard said that total is 20 to 30 more students than previous years, something Butikofer noted could be attributable to the district’s increased enrollment as well as the free meals.


“So more kids might be eating,” she said.


Pester wondered if that amount of people in such a short span might deter kids.


“If kids know they don’t have time, will they not even go to lunch?” she asked. “It also takes extra time, three to four minutes, to go through the salad bar.”


Some students might not utilize the salad bar if they don’t have time, she said, or they might forego it out of fear they’ll be judged for what or how much food they take. Pester also referenced reports that the salad bar is often not replenished, leaving little to choose from for students who go through the lunch line later.


Echard acknowledged that has been an issue.


“We have extra containers to fill it, but we don’t always have the eyes to watch it,” she said. “[In Monona] we have 300 elementary kids we’re serving too. Sometimes we barely have time to re-set between groups.”


“We don’t need more staff,” she stressed. “We need more time.”


The group felt a meeting with administration to discuss scheduling options—to see if the lunch hour could be stretched—would be the best option.


A resolution is important, said Pester, to help kids succeed at school.


“If my kids are hungry, they just aren’t on track as well,” she shared.

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